The future is a pretty interesting place to be, especially in comics. Stories set in the future have long been a comic book staple from early days of Buck Rogers in the 25th century to last year’s big hit Saga. Some of comics’ greatest stories were set in the future, like the Uncanny X-Men’s “Days of Future Past” and DC’s “Kingdom Come.” Nowadays, the future is better than ever with new series from Dark Horse, Image and Vertigo. With their dystopic visions of violence, injustice and terrifying new species, you might not actually want to live there… er, then. But it sure is an interesting place to visit.
East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Laura Martin (Image Comics) is the best of the bunch. Hickman imagined a disunited state of America, where a separated north and south is just the beginning. The Mormons carved out their own country in Utah, the Chinese conquered the West Coast, the Spanish never lost control of the Southwest and the Native Americans held onto a big chunk of the Midwest. If that sounds like a boring history class, it isn’t. Hickman also threw in some cool future tech and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The twist is that Death has abandoned the rest of his Dark Riders in a quest to retrieve his lost wife. The result is a fascinating geopolitical thriller in which everyone has their agenda- including a few who wouldn’t mind bringing about the end of the world- plus a very personal tale of redemption- in which Death is the surprising romantic hero. By wedding the epic world-shattering story to the personal tale of lost love, Hickman has crafted a story for the ages.
Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Image Comics) has an even darker view of the future. Income inequality has increased so radically that a handful of families control the entire wealth of the world. Everyone else either works for one of families as a serf or is essentially homeless and derisively referred to as “trash.” To protect their wealth, each major family has an almost-un-killable biologically enhanced bodyguard known as a “Lazarus.” Eve is the Lazarus for the Carlyle family. She’s one of them- they call her sister and daughter- but not really. She knows that she’s their creation and property even if she shares their DNA. She does her job well- protecting family assets and killing “trash” that have the effrontery to break into the family-owned food supply. She carries messages to other families as an expendable asset yet is trusted enough to negotiate in their name. Eve must also tread cautiously at home where the volatile family members can be as ruthless as any Borgia. Lazarus has a narrower scope than East of West but it’s also a tighter story because of it. Eve is an intriguing protagonist, and Rucka grabs the reader’s interest from the opening scene and never lets go.
Jupiter’s Legacy by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely (Image Comics) doesn’t quite fit the theme as it’s technically set in the present, but it does contain a few futuristic elements. It’s also excellent. Utopian is the world’s first and greatest superhero. He’s saved the world countless times and defeated every supervillain. He’s also left a legacy that’s impossible to live up to. His two children, Brandon and Chloe, followed dad into the superhero business but they’re not really cut out for it. They’re classic celebrity children- more interested in parties and drugs than in saving the world. Yet Millar turns the stereotype on its head by making the disaffected children surprisingly relatable and sympathetic protagonists. Millar builds on the universal resentment of the younger generation, and raises interesting questions about families and generations. Can children who have always been told that they’ll never measure up chart their own path? Or will they rebel and even overthrow their parents? I don’t know what will happen next, but it’s been fascinating to watch so far. Often, the bad choices are even more interesting than the good ones.
The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy (DC/Vertigo) is an excellent hybrid of genres, combining science fiction and horror into one wild ride. Dr. Archer is one of the world’s preeminent marine biologists, specializing in whales and other marine mammals. She’s invited to a deep-sea base where her expertise is needed. Homeland Security has captured a creature. Not just any creature, they’ve apparently captured a vaguely humanoid and potentially sentient representative of a new species. However, the biological and ethical questions are quickly put on hold when the creature breaks out and begins to murder everyone in the base. The Wake combines elements of movie favorites The Abyss, Alien and Cabin in the Woods. You won’t find the idea of mermen quite so funny when everyone starts to die.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan (Dark Horse) is, unfortunately, the weakest member of this group. Way has previously turned in excellent comic work with his operatic superhero story, Umbrella Academy. However, this time, he makes a classic sci-fi mistake. Writers often invent futuristic lingo and diction as a way of making their world distinct. It can be done very well, as in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. But Way overdoes it in Fabulous Killjoys and the story is occasionally impenetrable because of it. There’s a decent story underneath about a young girl and her cat wandering around in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and there’s an interesting subplot about a robot in love who steals electricity so that she can run away. But the sporadic lucidity isn’t enough to overcome the problem of impenetrable dialogue.
I'm glad you are liking The Wake, I didn't care for it at all. I didn't like the story, the characters or the art.
East of West and Lazarus have all been really good. Some really good stories going on there.
Jupiter's Legacy has been okay, I went against my own rule of only buying Millar comics in trade form, because he is always late.